Update: Astrobotic posted another update on the propulsion issue, saying there has been a “critical loss of propellant” due to the problems. It sounds like the lander is no longer headed to the Moon but will instead potentially go on a different journey to try to make the most of the unfortunate situation.
The original story is below.
The United States’ first attempt to land on the Moon again in 50+ years is now in jeopardy, as a private company that launched its lander on Monday now says it’s encountered an engine issue, according to The Associated Press.
Astrobotic Technology successfully launched its lunar lander Peregrine on Monday from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. However, just a few hours later, the company now says a propulsion issue is forcing the ship to reorient its solar panels to point toward the sun to gather more power.
Astrobotic said a propulsion issue could threaten the spacecraft’s ability to have a successful “soft” landing on the Moon when it’s scheduled to touch down on February 23. This is an uncrewed ship controlled remotely.
The final descent to the Moon is believed to be among the most challenging parts of the entire flight. Japan’s space agency got its lunar lander within 33 feet of the Moon in 2023 before it lost communication with the craft, with the assumption being that it crashed.
No private company has ever landed on the Moon. Astrobotic’s spacecraft is taking a non-direct route to the Moon, while a second private American company, Intuitive Machines, is scheduled to blast its own uncrewed lander into space in February. This craft is taking a more direct approach to the Moon, with the aim of landing on the Moon at around the same time as Astrobotic. Which lander gets there first is an open question.
The US space agency NASA provided millions in funding to both companies to help advance systems in delivering commercial cargo to the Moon. The last time the US landed on the Moon was December 1972.
Only four countries have ever landed on the Moon–the US, Russia, India, and China. Japan has another spacecraft near the Moon now and it is expected to touch down on the Moon in mid-January.